An Inaccurate Guide to European Manhole Cover Art: Oslo

Manhole covers say a lot about a city, or at least they say something about a city. Most manhole covers are boring utilitarian objects placed over holes to prevent the general public from falling into a sewer and dying, but some cities have taken a few extra steps to make their manhole covers into something more than just a round piece of metal.


Our first manhole cover comes from Oslo. First take notice of all the crosses surrounding the round stuff in the middle. There are a lot of crosses. These could either be there for traction, or they could be saying something about Oslo. I really don’t know because this is an inaccurate guide, not an accurate one. Next, notice the four stars surrounding the dude in the middle. These stars are Amazon’s rating of the city. (Some of the people gave Oslo four stars because it is far away from the USA. Others gave Oslo four stars because it didn’t have a McDonald’s on every corner. I believe most people take one star away from Oslo because of the cost of a beer.) The guy in the center of the manhole cover is holding either three really big arrows, or three crutches with sharp ends. If he recently twisted his ankle because there was a woman laying in the road (which appears to be the case) then they are crutches. If they are arrows then it is probably saying something about power or archery. There is an outside chance these could also be darts used on a really big dart board.

In his right hand he (let’s assume he is the King) is holding what appears to be a really large washer (not the kind you use to clean clothing, but the kind that is used to hold nuts and bolts tight). The washer is an ancient symbol of things getting too loose. When the King of Norway (who at the time was probably the King of Sweden or Denmark, because Norwegians were using big arrows as crutches instead of using them to shoot Swedes or Danes) thought things were getting a bit too loose in Norway he would pull out this big washer and say, “Ongy, bongy, dingy, wingy, lingy.” (Rough translation: Things are getting too loose, it is time to tighten up and start behaving.) Then the loyal citizens would stop acting so crazy and become more orderly. I can think of a few countries that could use the big washer these days…I’m talking to you Netherlands.

Hiding just behind the King are two lions. These lions are trying to eat the city stars but because the King is sitting on them they cannot. This symbolizes the power of the King to keep Oslo a four star city. If the King were to disappear, then Oslo might drop to a two star city, one star if the lions are really hungry.

Beneath the King’s pigeon-toed feet, is either a lady or some sea creature that looks like a lady. This is where knowing a little about Oslo’s history would probably help, but research is not happening at 5:30 in the morning. One thing can be certain, the King’s feet smell. Look how the lady/sea creature’s face is turned away like she is trying to catch a breath of fresh air. This might be because the King had a tough job and his feet would sweat.

Finally, take notice of the most disturbing aspect of the lady/sea creature: her feet/fins. There is nothing there, her legs just end. I know feet are hard to draw, or in this case hard to design, but the artist could have fixed that problem pretty easily by putting shoes on her feet, or swim fins. The artist wisely hid her hand  from the viewer by having it tucked under her side, had the artist planned ahead he/she could have tucked those difficult feet behind one of the city stars.

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15 thoughts on “An Inaccurate Guide to European Manhole Cover Art: Oslo

  1. I think it was Rembrandt who couldn’t draw hands and used to say to his assistants, “Here, you finish this for me.” Not that I’m saying Rembrandt did this footless manhole cover, more that I’d like assistants. Then I could hand off everything I can’t do. I may need a lot of assistants.


  2. I asked the Oslo Department of Tourism for an explanation. A person named Renate said,
    “This man hole depicts St. Hallvard, the guardian saint of Oslo. He is carrying three arrows and a millstone. The arrows symbolize the arrows used to kill him, and the millstone is because according to legend they tied a millstone to his body before they sunk it in Drammensfjorden. His body later floated to the surface, which was one of the reasons he was thought to be holy and was made a saint. The naked woman symbolizes the pregnant woman he died to save. She was accused of theft, but he believed in her innocence and tried to help her escape, which caused his murder. The stars are there to symbolize the heavens, and the crosses are arranged in that way to make you think of rings in water.”


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